a local solution to a local problem requires a new level of innovative thinking
Innovation.  Oft touted as our path to economic salvation, innovation has been prominent in the news this winter.  But usually it is in the context of national economics, or science, or big businesses.

Too rarely do we see innovation mentioned as a means of directly assisting people or communities.

“Science and innovation are key drivers of economic growth…” Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said back in May.

He sees innovation as an economic tool which is why innovation programs received a $200 million boost in the May Budget.  As a key plank of the Business Growth Agenda, funding for science, innovation and research has increased by 28% over the past four years and now totals $1.36 billion per annum.

Then came the Fieldays in June, which showcased many interesting developments in the Innovation Centre.  The winners of the big awards were larger companies like Gallaghers, C-Dax and Pukekohe farm machinery manufacturer, Fieldmaster.  Those companies will certainly benefit from their innovations, as will the consumers who buy their innovative products.

As the Fieldays closed, Google launched their Project Loon in Canterbury.  Loon is a network of telecommunications balloons circling the earth that is intended to bring continuous broadband access to unserved communities.

O3b-satellites-over-NZThen last week we saw another innovation aimed at providing broadband access for remote communities.  The O3b (Other 3 billion) network launched their first constellation of telecommunications satellites that hold the greatest promise of a broadband innovation that could directly benefit remote rural people.

There is no doubt that Google and O3b will benefit from their innovations.  But it does not necessarily follow that the people living in our remote rural areas will also receive a benefit.

This is because those people have no regulatory protection for broadband services provided by off-shore network providers.

Our Commerce Commission regulates prices on our existing copper network.

People signing up for a fibre connection on the urban UFB program are protected by contracted wholesale pricing and minimum quality standards.

Similarly, the rural RBI program provides some consumer protections, notwithstanding that Vodafone raised prices by a massive 25% on some plans last year.

But the final group of broadband consumers, those dependent on satellite services, have no protections at all.  This situation was highlighted last month by the plight of a small group of rural people who use a Eutelsat satellite that is approaching its service capacity.  This satellite provider simply raised prices and lowered speeds, leaving the customer literally no choice but to accept the changed terms.

So to you dear Ms Adams, a local solution to a local problem requires a new level of innovative thinking.  This solution involves the establishment of a satellite-equivalent to Crown Fibre Holdings, which accepts the responsibility for coordinating the purchase of satellite capacity and wholesaling this to retail service providers.

At least one RSP does not like the idea of a “Crown Satellite Holdings” type governmental involvement at this level – but could the Ministry facilitate the industry to find its own solution?

–o0o–

Another local innovation, launched from within the local community by local people for locals comes to Franklin next week.  The Franklin branch of the National Treecrops Association, supported by Pukekohe’s Fieldmaster, is holding their inaugural “Smallblock Sunday Seminar” on Sunday 21st July.

The four half-hour seminars cover an interesting range of topics and are complemented by displays by local community groups such as Franklin Bee Club and Trees For Survival.

If getting more from your small lifestyle block is what you want, then get more information and register your interest atwww.smallblock.org.nz.